Nuclear program sets off decade of growth
Department of Energy kicks off US$4 billion seven-year plan Metal Tech News – January 13, 2021
Last updated 1/12/2021 at 2:48pm
Early last year, the U.S. Department of Energy launched three separate award programs to fund domestic private companies in developing nuclear reactors in the United States.
Congress appropriated US$230 million to kick off this series of investments and through a cost-sharing partnership the DOE, will award amounts to private companies while expecting to invest close to US$4 billion over seven years with the partners providing at least 20% in matching funds.
"All of these projects will put the U.S. on an accelerated timeline to domestically and globally deploy advanced nuclear reactors that will enhance safety and be affordable to construct and operate," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. "We must pursue technological innovation and advanced RD&D (research, design and development) investments to strengthen American leadership in the next generation of nuclear technologies, ensuring a healthy and growing U.S. nuclear energy sector."
With this funding opportunity, applicants will be able to receive support through three different development and demonstration pathways:
•Advanced Reactor Demonstrations Projects – expected to result in a fully functional advanced nuclear reactor within seven years of the award.
•Risk Reduction for Future Demonstrations Projects – to support up to five additional teams resolving technical, operational, and regulatory challenges to prepare for future demonstration opportunities.
•Advanced Reactor Concepts 2020 (ARC 20) – to support innovative and diverse designs with potential to commercialize in the mid-2030s.
The program will also leverage the National Reactor Innovation Center (NRIC) to efficiently test and assess ARD technologies by engaging the world-renowned capabilities of the national laboratory system to move the reactors from blueprints to reality.
With the three separate award programs offered by ARDP, 10 companies were selected for consideration for the separate development pathways.
For the ARC-20 program, the DOE selected three U.S.-based teams to receive funding, splitting the cost of upwards of US$130 million, with the first initial investment by the DOE being $56 million over a four-year period.
•Inherently Safe Advanced SMR for American Nuclear Leadership – Advanced Reactor Concepts, LLC (Herndon, VA) will deliver a conceptual design of a seismically isolated advanced sodium-cooled reactor facility that builds upon the initial pre-conceptual design of a 100 MWe reactor facility. Total award value over three and a half years: $34.4 million (DOE share is $27.5 million).
•Fast Modular Reactor Conceptual Design – General Atomics (San Diego, CA) will develop a fast modular reactor conceptual design with verifications of key metrics in fuel, safety, and operational performance. The design will be for a 50-megawatt electric (MWe) fast modular reactor (FMR). Total award value over three years: $31.1 million (DOE share is $24.8 million).
•Horizontal Compact High Temperature Gas Reactor – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (Cambridge, MA) will mature the Modular Integrated Gas-Cooled High Temperature Reactor (MIGHTR) concept from a pre-conceptual stage to a conceptual stage to support commercialization. Total award value over three years: $4.9 million (DOE cost share is $3.9 million).
While just initial concepts, with designs being for future possibilities, the ARC-20 program may possibly see a recurring yearly addition, with ARC-21 and so on. The overall plan of the department to grow nuclear energy in an accelerated approach within the decade, the DOE could potentially continue this peanut project to keep ideas fresh and interest strong.
Advanced reactor demonstration selectees
In October, the DOE announced two U.S.- based teams to receive US$160 million for initial funding to build two reactors that can be operational within the next five to seven years.
TerraPower LLC (Bellevue, WA) and X-energy (Rockville, MD) were awarded US$80 million each to deliver two first-of-a-kind advanced reactors to be licensed for commercial operations.
Through the ARDP, TerraPower will demonstrate a Natrium reactor, a sodium-cooled fast reactor that leverages decades of development and design undertaken by TerraPower and its partner, GE-Hitachi. The high-operating temperature of the Natrium reactor, coupled with thermal energy storage, will allow the plant to provide flexible electricity output that complements variable renewable generation such as wind and solar.
In addition, this project will establish a new metal fuel fabrication facility that is scaled to meet the needs of this new demonstration program.
X-energy is expected to deliver a commercial four-unit nuclear power plant based on its Xe-100 reactor design. The Xe-100 is a high temperature gas-cooled reactor that is ideally suited to provide flexible electricity output as well as process heat for a wide range of industrial heat applications, such as desalination and hydrogen production.
The project will also deliver a commercial scale TRi-structural ISOtropic particle (TRISO) fuel fabrication facility, while utilizing the DOE's investment in development of this highly robust fuel form.
According to DOE, both projects incorporate a range of design features that will not only enhance safety, but make them affordable to construct and operate, however, only time will tell if that is entirely true or not.
Final awarded program selectees
Dec. 16 DOE announced the selections of five teams to receive US$30 million in initial funding under ARDP's Risk Reduction for Future Demonstration Projects. This program is designed to help develop safe and affordable reactor technologies that can be licensed and deployed over the next 10 to 14 years.
These five teams, while already utilizing conceptualized reactor designs, are seeking ways to further enhance the stability and efficiency of nuclear reactors further reducing costs and providing the extremely necessary safety factors when dealing with nuclear materials.
The five U.S.-based teams selected to receive the risk reduction funding are:
•Hermes Reduced-Scale Test Reactor – Kairos Power, LLC (Alameda, CA) will design, construct, and operate its Hermes reduced-scale test reactor. Hermes is intended to lead to the development of Kairos Power's commercial-scale KP-FHR (Kairos Power Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor), a novel advanced nuclear reactor technology that leverages TRISO fuel in pebble form combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. Total award value over seven years: $629 million (DOE share is $303 million).
• eVinci Microreactor – Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC (Cranberry Township, PA) will advance the design of a heat pipe-cooled microreactor to support a nuclear demonstration unit by 2024. The project will serve to reduce technical risks associated with the moderator canister design, improve the ability to manufacture heat pipe wicks, and develop an economically viable refueling process and licensing approach. Total award value over seven years: $9.3 million (DOE share is $7.4 million).
• BWXT Advanced Nuclear Reactor (BANR) – BWXT Advanced Technologies, LLC (Lynchburg, VA) will develop a commercially viable transportable microreactor with the design focused on using TRISO fuel particles to achieve higher uranium loading and an improved core design using a silicon carbide (SiC) matrix. Total award value over seven years: $106.6 million (DOE share is $85.3 million).
• Holtec SMR-160 Reactor – Holtec Government Services, LLC (Camden, NJ) is receiving funding for early-stage design, engineering, and licensing activities to accelerate the development of Holtec's light water-cooled SMR-160 (small modular reactor). Total award value over seven years: $147.5 million (DOE share is $116 million).
• Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment – Southern Company Services Inc. (Birmingham, AL) will lead a project to design, construct, and operate the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) – the world's first critical fast-spectrum salt reactor relevant to TerraPower's Molten Chloride Fast Reactor. Total award value over seven years: $113 million (DOE share is $90.4 million).
With the ARC program conceptualizing future designs, the Risk Reduction program streamlining present auxiliary and core reactor technologies and the ARDP granting late-stage projects the opportunity to come to fruition, the Department of Energy has really kicked off the next decade of nuclear technology in the most explosive way.
"ARDP is significant because it will enable a market for commercial reactors that are safe and affordable to both construct and operate in the near- and mid-term," said Brouillette. "All three programs under ARDP pave the way for the United States to be highly competitive globally."